Grandma’s Shoes. Pennies in a Urinal. Or . . . What Inspires Us

My friend Webster defines Inspiration ~ 1. To stimulate a person to create or other activity or to express certain ideas. 2. To fill with or to instill a certain feeling. 3. To communicate ideas etc. by a divine agency.

That’s the work of an artist – through poetry, music, photography or any other forms of artistic, creative expression.

But the question I often get, and I think others do as well, is ‘Where do your ideas come from?’ The answer comes down to the second word in the first definition – stimulate. Webster says a stimulus is something that rouses a person to activity or energy or produces a reaction in an organ or tissue of the body.

That pretty much allows that stimulus can be anything!

This is a pair of my Grandma’s shoes. They were such a part of her that when I was given the opportunity to take a memento, her shoes were the first things I looked for. I knew one day I’d write a poem about them. Several years later I finally did. Sometimes the inspired feeling is love or nostalgia.

Fellow poet, Rebecca, is intrigued by wind – how it moves, its varying strengths, etc. – so she’s writing a series of poems featuring this part of nature. The sensation she talked about and that came through in her poems was wonderment.

Last month during Thursday Night Poets, Susan brought a beautiful poem entitled, Blue. It was about casting sins and worries overboard, so not a poem about depression, but about peace and serenity. We asked what inspired the poem and she started telling us about her couch. Huh? She went on with this great, humorous story about this baby blue that she once fell in love with, painted a room and bought carpet . . . and then so hated the color she could barely stay in her apartment and had to move. Susan is from England so her accent and droll British wit added to the story. But now she has this beautiful blue couch that she never thought she’d like. And while the poem wasn’t about the couch, or even the color itself, they were the seeds for her poem.

And sometimes the emotion or feeling that rises is just a sense of curiosity. My friend, poet and artist Jonathan Rice, has this ability to look at the mundane, the odd, and the everyday stuff of life and create poems and abstract art.  Here’s where the pennies in the urinal come in, from his poem Pennies in a Urinal.

“…

Thought maybe someone made a wish

but with no fountain

or wishing well nearby

 

he chose the urinal instead.

 

Maybe he made three wishes

or a political statement.

 

I live in the South

 

so pissing on Lincoln

would make sense.

 

. . .  ”

from Jonathan’s latest collection, Killing Time, Main Street Rag Publishing www.mainstreetrag.com

Inspiration instills and fills certain feelings, communicates ideas. But before an artist can fill, instill, or communicate with others, we must first experience those things within ourselves.  So we keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open.

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Mom’s Prune Cake and Making Peace

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I just finished the last piece of prune cake – think really moist spice cake with a light glaze that tastes like caramel. Soooo good! It’s one of the many baked goods Mom made every Christmas and gave as gifts. After I married and eventually moved to SC, I made it for Christmas, too. The first Christmas after mom passed away, I lost the recipe.

Cooks, you know what it’s like when you know a recipe card more by the look of it, than by the recipe that’s on it. That’s the way it was with the prune cake recipe. I’d used the same cards – one for the cake, one for the icing – for almost twenty years. I knew it by the stains, discoloration, and my handwriting. And I couldn’t find it.

I went back to my cottage thinking maybe I’d left it there in a cupboard with some other recipes. I pulled the small basket onto my lap and started leafing through, looking for those recipe cards. Instead I found these.dsc02990dsc02991

Obviously not the ones I was looking for, and a set I still don’t remember ever getting from her or using. They were in mint condition. When I turned over the cake card, I saw her note at the bottom and could hear her saying the words. The cards and note brought both tears and comfort.

Several months later I found the other cardsdsc02989

Mom passed away eighteen years ago this month. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. Making her prune cake brought a sense of peace that first Christmas. I’ve written about having coffee at McDonald’s on her anniversary. My sister makes snow angels in the winter’s first snow in her honor.

Last year was a rough one. For many of us, the deaths of family, friends, or beloved pets left us numb. Some of us are losing family and friends through illness. A friend’s brother and sister-in-law are still rebuilding Haiti from the damage of Hurricane Matthew; families in Appalachia are rebuilding after wildfires. And without getting political, the presidential election still reverberates, causing emotions ranging from euphoria to acute depression and anger.

Tonight we wait for winter’s first snow. The line defining where it will fall and where it won’t keeps shifting north, so we may not see it. I’ll be disappointed if that happens, but there is still a sense of peace that settles with the anticipation. Peace. The whole reason a star appeared in the night sky and hovered over a tiny baby.dsc00811A final Merry Christmas. May we all find moments of peace and comfort in this New Year.

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We Three Kings . . . or why my nativity will stay up all year

Tomorrow, or today depending on when you’re reading this, is the Feast of the Epiphany, traditionally the day we celebrate the Magi bearing gifts to the Christ Child. Sometimes this day is referred to as Little Christmas, but in some cultures this is the big day for exchanging gifts. Tonight I’ll put the kings and camels in my mangers. Yes plural because I have three of them set out.

I have several nativity sets, a small collection, and I like putting different ones  out each year. The most sentimental is my first set, hand-painted by my sister. The stable was made by my first hubby and our children. It’s a simple structure made of wood scraps with stalks of straw placed across the rafters. The Holy Family still takes shelter inside, though the straw roof is showing a bit of wear and tear – which only serves to make it look more realistic. This one gets set up every year.

Photo by Mark Blum

Photo by Mark Blum

Another sentimental favorite is the one in my home parish back at St. Joseph’s in Galion. I’ve always thought it one of the most beautiful nativities I’ve seen. It’s been part of the parish since I was a little girl when Mom and Dad took me up close to see the Baby Jesus. I’m glad that it’s remained part of the parish despite the change in priests and church interior over the years.

Photo by Mark Blum

Photo by Mark Blum

But one I always look forward to is an outdoor set by someone special. Roger always brings the message of the nativity home. The story isn’t just about the Holy Family seeking refuge in a stable to await the birth of the Christ Child. The story continues today with others living in the margins. One year Roger’s nativity depicted prisoners, another year it was the homeless. His displays call us to remember that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, yet we sometimes don’t see that image in others. This year his display borrowed from The Price is Right, showing the price each person paid for their part in the story. An unwed mother subject to ridicule for starters.

Photo by Roger Blum

Photo by Roger Blum

During the holidays, a forest of Giving Trees spring up. Food pantries have a glut of boxed and canned food. Soup kitchens and homeless shelters have troops of volunteers marching through. But the needs don’t exist just during the holidays.

Our parish participates in a program for homeless families, providing food and shelter, for one week each quarter. The woman who coordinates our week is always looking for volunteers to cook supper one night or to stay overnight one night. The shelter is in a retreat house so the accommodations are really nice! Yet she always scrambles to find people. My friend Kevin works with the homeless in Lancaster. I wrote a series of posts about his work. He’s been posting photos on Facebook of the donations of blankets, warm clothing, tarps he’s received for the winter. He’ll have other, different needs for the summer.

My hope for the coming year is that I don’t get so caught up in my own busy-ness that I forget there are nativities and holy families out there that need the same compassion and action that’s evoked by the manger scenes I see at Christmas. Maybe I’ll keep this little one out as a reminder.dsc03025Merry Little Christmas!

 

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A Little Left of Center

dsc00299Several years ago this was our Christmas tree topper. It’s Criss Angel, the illusionist. We have an angel topper, but my youngest son thought this would be a fun surprise for me. It was. dsc00298

 

 

 

The year before he’d glued a picture of David Boreanaz to a large yellow, paper star and affixed that to the top of the tree. Boreanaz is the actor who portrayed Angel on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Again, he knew I’d think it was great.

One of the best trees was the one he and his sister decorated. There were large plastic candy canes, and a stuffed flamingo and other stuffed critters peeking out of the branches. It looked like something Dr. Seuss would have decorated. I loved it. I also love that all my children understand, accept and share my quirky sense of humor.

I’ve watched Facebook posts lately about resolutions some are making and many resolve to be more kind this year. I would agree to that one. Being kind to one another, even in the smallest ways, goes a long way in building new friendships or healing broken ones. But I hope being more kind includes being more kind to ourselves as well.

Having an odd-ball sense of humor isn’t always fun or easy, but it’s the one I have so it’s the one I let out. If others don’t ‘get it’, I’m okay with that. One realization that’s been tougher to accept is I can’t do it all . . . anymore. Whether it’s my energy level, or other time commitments, I can’t do all the things I really want to do. I’m getting better about not beating myself up about those things that don’t get done. I don’t say I have limitations or shortcomings, they’re boundaries. I respect them better than I used to. So my garden may be smaller than I’d like. My second book of poetry may not get finished this year, but I’ll still work on those poems. So far I’ve not had physical reasons to cut back.

My Dad finally decided last year to hire someone to mow his lawn. Dad’s 83. He watches the weather more closely and isn’t as apt to take a chance and drive if the conditions are iffy, even staying home from church if need be. He also admitted to finally using the cane we bought him years ago. He still does his own grocery shopping and other errands, visits a roster of people at the local assisted living center each week. He hasn’t slowed down all that much, just adjusted and accepted his new boundaries. I tell him he’s gotten smart in his old age. He’s accepting those changes with his own wonderful, quirky sense of humor.

In this New Year I’ll be looking closely to my Dad for his example of kindness to others and kindness to self.

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A Christmas Confession

One of the things I look forward to during Christmas is watching Christmas movies. And by movies I mean the oldies:

Miracle on 34th Street, either version

A Christmas Carol, the 1984 version with George C Scott as Scrooge

It’s a Wonderful Life

White Christmas

What’s not on the list?

I’ve never seen the movie. The one everyone says is the funniest Christmas movie. I confess, I’ve never seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

national-lampoonEven worse, I really have no desire to see what I’m missing. I can almost hear the moans and cries of disbelief. The movie is on every list of Best Christmas Comedies, or Best Christmas Movies. Others, like Elf and The Santa Clause, also make all those lists and I’ve seen them and laughed. But for some reason, no love for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I thought Chevy was funny in some SNL skits, but not so much in other things. So I hesitate to give in and watch his Christmas fare, thinking I’ll not find it funny and then feel even more out of sync with all those who love it. All the cultural references to it are lost on me, and that’s ok.

But that’s one of the great things about humor, there’s a broad spectrum of what we think is funny. Thankfully there are like-minded, creative people who make us laugh wherever we land. Of course I’m on the end that’s odd and quirky. The comic strip Lio gets me giggling and so does the tv show Big Bang Theory. I love how that twisted humor twists my brain and makes me smile. Family, friends and human nature can also set me off. A good laugh is good for the soul.

What about you? What or whom do you find funny? In this coming year when we’re facing real challenges, where will you look for levity? And just as important, have you seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? I hear it’s quite funny.

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A Little Winter Music

dsc03024Yes, I’m still listening to Christmas music, but it’s toned down a bit. John Denver and The Muppets has been relegated to the bottom of the stack, along with Bing and Trisha Yearwood. What has stayed toward the top is one of my favorites, Celtic Christmas III which is mostly instrumental and mostly old carols like The Wexford Carol and Lully Lullay. No Rudolph or Santa Baby.

Two other favorites aren’t Christmas music, but winter music – George Winston’s December, and A Winter’s Solstice IV by various artists. All these cds are on the original Windham Hill label so you know how old they are! All the music has a haunting, soothing, quieting effect on me. If I believed in reincarnation, I’m sure my past life would have been someplace where days are short, snow is deep and the northern lights dance. A place where winter blankets.

I’ve lived in South Carolina 31 years and I still miss Midwest winters. For me there’s something cocooning about grey days and charcoal evenings, about how snow muffles sound. I don’t forget that snow also gets slushy and loses its beauty, but the dreary days never depressed me. Winters in South Carolina are different, not as dreary and fewer chances of being sequestered for any length of time. I create that sensation with the strings, Celtic drums and low reed instruments that recall a place I’ve never been, but somehow know.

As an introvert I need that cocooning. I call it ‘getting peopled out.’ I like people – really! – but as Susan Cain explains in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, being around people too long saps my energy. And sometimes 10 minutes is too long! I get antsy, moody and tired. I don’t want to talk to anyone, take care of emails, or watch tv. Solitude is that fallow time my body, mind and soul need to refuel and reenergize, find their rhythm again. If I get a whole day that’s a blessing, but even as little as four hours makes a difference.

After the holidays the quiet winter is perfect for withdrawing. I have to work, but I embrace the still shorter days. I need to remember to make room for solitude throughout the year, not just in January and February. So if I skip a week or two here, I might be off listening to winter music.

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Let the Parties Begin!!

What?! Holiday party season ends on New Year’s Day? I didn’t know. I guess that’s one good thing about being ‘a little left of center’ – my party season is just beginning. It’s a very short-lived season, not even sure two gatherings constitute a season. But the one or two get-togethers I host are always after the first of the year. December is for family. January for friends. The timing started out as a way to celebrate without all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, now people look forward to the January parties. The house is still decorated, more with snowmen than Santas, the tree is still up, as long as the branches aren’t too droopy. Of course the lights are still up! The Spirit of Christmas still present.

This is Flat Connie. dsc00823She attended one of my longest-standing gatherings, The Literary Launch into the New Year. The Literary Launch is a get-together of our local writing groups, and one year Real Connie was unable to come. So we improvised. Connie wasn’t the head of any of the writing groups, hadn’t published more than anyone else, wasn’t supposed to be the guest of honor – though Flat Connie came close – it’s just she was part of this family and it didn’t feel right not having her here.dsc00821

Here I must admit I’m possibly the world’s worst hostess. I tend to leave guests to fend for themselves. If someone needs a serving utensil, they open the right drawer, without asking for location or permission. I’m horrible about checking if people need refills of food or drink, and relieved when they help themselves to both, even if it means getting into my fridge. One friend insists she’s moving into my walk-in pantry, and I’d be quite fine opening the door one day to find her camped inside. Somehow, despite my lack of social graces, my friends still see themselves as family.

My elderly friend, George, called one afternoon, “Kim, I’m out in your drive-way. Can I come in?” He’s coming to one of my January parties for the first time and wanted to make sure he had the right place. I was baking cookies with my grands and I looked around the kitchen. There were dishes in the sink and flour snowed onto the floor and my jeans. Grands had painted onesies for their soon-to-be-here brother and those were drying on the table and chairs. I’d showered that morning but didn’t wash my hair so it was curling out of its clip in a crazy-woman sort of way. In between projects the kids had scattered Legos through two rooms. All in all the house and I were a mess and getting messier. So of course I said, “Front door is open, come on in!”

And he did. He stood in my messy kitchen talking to my messy self while I watched the oven and slid cookies off sheets. He told a story or two and I laughed, while my grandson waltzed between us as he cleaned off the table and dumped left-over dough and crumbs into the wastebasket, brought in handfuls of dirty cutters to clatter into the sink. George wasn’t bothered by any of it.

It was a good reminder that hospitality isn’t about having a pristine house, the perfect food or the perfect timing. It’s about making people feel welcome and comfortable. About saying, The door’s open, come on in.

There’s a saying that your first guest in the New Year sets the tone of your home for the coming year. I hope your first guests brought good juju. Happy New Year!

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